In the Caribbean, you can hike through national parks and scuba dive along underwater mountains.
In the Caribbean, you can hike through national parks and scuba dive along underwater mountains. But perhaps your idea of the perfect island vacation is to plunk yourself down on the sands with a frosted drink in hand. Whether you want a veranda with a view of the sea or a plantation house set in a field of sugar cane, this guide will help you choose the vacation that best suits your needs.
Until its beaches were "discovered" in the late 1970s, Aruba, with its desertlike terrain and lunarlike interior landscapes, was an almost-forgotten outpost of Holland. Today, vacationers come for the dependable sunshine (it rains less here than virtually anywhere else in the Caribbean), the spectacular beaches, and an almost total lack of racial tensions despite an amazingly culturally diverse population.
The Bahamas is one of the most geographically complicated nations of the Atlantic. A coral-based archipelago, it is composed of more than 700 islands, 2,000 cays (pronounced "keys," from the Spanish word for small islands), and hundreds of rocky outcroppings that have damaged the hulls of countless ships since colonial days.
The British Virgin Islands (B.V.I.)
Still a British Crown Colony, this lushly forested chain consists of about 50 small, mountainous islands. Come here for the laid-back lifestyle, the lovely sandy beaches, the friendly people, and the small, intimate inns.
The Cayman Islands
This trio of islands is set near the southern coast of Cuba. It's a prosperous, tiny nation. The warm, crystal-clear waters and the colorful marine life in the offshore reefs surrounding the island attract scuba divers and snorkelers. Many hotels line the luscious sands of Seven Mile Beach.
The Dominican Republic
Occupying the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola, the island it shares with Haiti, the mountainous Dominican Republic is the second-largest country of the Caribbean. The island offers lots of Latin color, zesty merengue music, and many opportunities to dance, drink, and party.
A favorite of North American honeymooners, Jamaica is a mountainous island that rises abruptly from the sea 90 miles south of Cuba. It offers excellent beaches, golf, eco-tourism adventures, and fine hotels in all price brackets, making it one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean.
Home to 3.9 million people whose primary language is Spanish (though English is widely spoken, too), the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is under the jurisdiction of the United States. It's the most urban island of the Caribbean, with great beaches, glittering casinos, a range of hotels in all price brackets, sports and eco-tourism offerings, good hearty food, and sizzling salsa clubs. The island's interior is filled with rainforests and ancient volcanic mountains; the coastline is ringed with gorgeous sandy beaches.
St. Kitts & Nevis
The first English settlement in the Leeward Islands, St. Kitts has a rich sense of British maritime history. This island lies somewhat off the beaten tourist track and has a very appealing, intimate charm.
Nevis was spotted by Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the New World. He called it Nieves -- Spanish for snows -- when he saw the cloud-crowned volcanic isle that evoked for him the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees.
St. Lucia (Loo-sha), 24 miles south of Martinique, is the second largest of the Windward Islands, with a population of around 162,000. A volcanic island with lots of rainfall and great natural beauty, it has white- and black-sand beaches, bubbling sulfur springs, and beautiful mountain scenery.
Turks & Caicos
Although these islands are actually part of the Bahamian archipelago - they are to the east of the southernmost islands of The Bahamas, directly north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic - they are governed separately.
What's beginning to put Turks and Caicos on the map is an incredible array of beaches. The islands are also home to some of the world's most magnificent underwater life.
The U.S. Virgin Islands
Formerly Danish possessions, these islands became part of the United States in 1917. All three islands offer stunning beaches, great snorkeling, sailing, and lovely scenery.